Those of you who have been following me on Instagram may have seen my stories from the May bank holiday weekend in Siena. We had such a good time and managed to pack so much into the 3 days in Siena, that I thought I’d share it with you! Read on for why Siena is a great Tuscan city break!
3 days in Siena – a Tuscan city break
If you are as bad at geography as me, then you may not know that Tuscany is the region above Rome, home to Pisa, Siena and Florence. Siena itself is situated in the hills inland, so doesn’t have an airport. However it’s *fairly* easy to get there from both Pisa and Florence airports and Rome is well connected.
This post covers:
- Why you should visit Siena
- How to get to Siena
- Where to stay in Siena
- What to do in Siena
- What to eat in Siena
- Day trips from Siena (aka wine tours!)
- When to visit Siena
Why visit Siena?
Siena is a typical and well preserved hill-top Italian town surrounded by a wall. The whole centre has been designated an UNESCO World Heritage site, so every corner has a piece of history. This means most of the town centre is pedestrianised and there is little in the way of traffic. A visit to the Cathedral, ‘Duomo’ in Italian, is a must. You can easily spend time soaking up the history and culture, trying to get lost in the maze of streets, that always seem to return to the main campo (square).
Siena is also known for its food. The local pasta is called pici and the region is known for wild boar, truffles and red wine. There are plenty of restaurants which specialise in Tuscan food, as well as places serving more widely-known Italian foods, from pizza to Aperol spritzes.
How to get to Siena
There are two airports reasonably close to Siena, Pisa and Florence, both well-served from the UK. We flew with easyJet into Pisa airport. If you arrive in the day you can get a train to Siena in around 2 hours, or there are buses available, which take c2.5 hours. As our flight arrived after 9pm we were too late for public transport, so decided to hire a car. (Private transfer are available but the best price we found was €240 each way….) Hiring a car cost £100 plus excess insurance and petrol of €15 – so much cheaper for two and it would be even more economical for 4. It took about 2 hours of driving to get to Siena. For more transport options check out Siena without a car.
As we were staying in the centre of the old town, driving to our accommodation was not possible. The closest car parking to this historic centre was €25 a day after discount for overnight stays. So instead we parked at the Station car park – only €2 a day and you can pay the whole when you return to your car at the end of your trip, A top tip is that the station has a series of escalators that take you from the valley up to the old town. These are situated inside the shopping centre opposite the station and run late. They were a god send – Becky would have mutinied if we had to walk up the very steep hill with our luggage. Another option is a taxi, but consider pre-booking if you’re arriving late, as when we got there just after midnight there were none around.
Once at the top of the escalators you were on the main road to the old town. We saw people waiting for a bus, but decided to walk it instead… It was still a 20 minute walk, so I regretted that decision later, especially as I was carrying a ruck sack and my friend was dragging a wheelie case. However we finally got there and checked in!
Where to stay in Siena
You can’t get more central than the Piazza del Campo – the main square where they run the annual Palio horse race. The bed and breakfast where we stayed La Terrazza sul Campo, the terrace above the square, was perfectly situated on the square with amazing views.
View this post on Instagram
Just in case you didn’t spot this utterly gorgeous view on my Insta stories from Siena, I thought I’d share it now! . This was the view from my bed, of the main square in Siena – the Piazza del Campo. This boutique b&b @laterrazzasulcamposiena only has 4 rooms – so not much chance to grab this view! . ❓shall I write a blog post about my long weekend in Siena❓ Let me know in the comments! . #whatskatiedoingblog #sienaitaly #italy?? #visitsiena #tuscany #siena #piazzadelcampo #laterrazzasulcampo #passionpassport #expediapic #travelblog #girlsvshglobe #travelust #wearetravelgirls #traveladdicted #soyviajera #mywandergram #sheisnotlost #ladiesgoneglobal #femaletravelbloggers #darlingescapes #traveldreamseekers #proudtobeFTB #untilIfindhome
Each of their rooms has an ensuite and room for a table and chairs, to which they will deliver breakfast each day.
3 of the rooms overlook the Campo, with either windows or a balcony. Each room can be made up with a double bed or twin beds.
They also have a mini fridge (great for storing your drinks!).
But the best bit is definitely the views across the Campo.
What to do in Siena
For the history nuts out there you need to check out the OPA SI and Acropolis passes. These are particularly good value if you are in Siena for 3 days (this is how long they are valid). Becky and I got the Acropolis + pass, which gives you access to the whole Cathedral complex, including the Gate of Heaven (Porta de Cielo) and the museum in the Santa Maria della Scala (the old hospital building) for €25. My friends Sub and Paul got the Porta de Cielo all-inclusive pass for €20 as they were in Siena for less time.
The pass covers:
- The cathedral and it’s library
- Museo dell’Opera ‘museum of work’ & Panorama viewpoint
- The Crypt
- The Baptistry
- Gate of Heaven
- Santa Maria della Scala museum
1. Cathedral ‘Duomo’
The Cathedral is a medieval masterpiece, known for it’s amazing decoration – both inside from the inlaid marble floors and striped marble columns and outside:
The library sports stunning murals and the most amazing ceiling painting:
2. Museo dell’Opera
The museum was a little dull for me, but Becky loved it, It houses the original West Window from the Cathedral, which dates from the 1400’s and many of the original sculptures, including works by Pisano. It also is the access point for the Panorama view from the unfinished ‘new South wing’ of the Cathedral, with great views across Siena and the surrounding countryside:
The Crypt no longer has bodies buried in it, but the original wallpaintings are still on show. Interpretation isn’t great here, so we couldn’t work out why many of them show a lot of damage, but they were still beautiful. The crypt is also a good place to hide from the rain!
4. The Baptistry
The Baptistry is full of murals and ceiling paintings representing scenes from the Bible that would have made people in the 14th Century very fearful of God. I liked having Becky to explain the stories to me – especially the ones from the apocryphal gospels that they don’t teach you in the Church of England!
5. The Gate of Heaven ‘Porta de Cielo’
The Gate of Heaven is the route up to the roof of the Cathedral. It takes you to view points around the central dome, with great views across Siena:
Then you come back along the side of the roof and behind the large facade at the front of the Cathedral:
I think it’s definitely worth paying the extra from the basic OPA SI pass to do this. They will give you a timed ticket when you buy your pass at the ticket office.
6. Santa Maria della Scala
This old hospital building developed over a long period of time and so has its own history.
It’s also a museum that tells the story of the area, hosts art exhibitions and houses the archaeology museum in its basement. The whole site is much bigger than it seems from the entrance, so give yourself plenty of time.
We enjoyed a few hours exploring here, before lunch was calling!
What to eat in Siena
Coffee & pastries
When your macchiatto comes with a pastry for just €2, there is no reason not to try them!
We tried a nutella filled sweet cannelloni and sfogliatella (lobster tail) filled with lemon cream.
Obviously one cannot visit Italy and not eat ice cream! On the Friday it was beautiful and sunny in the afternoon, perfect ice cream weather. We grabbed some gelato from the best rated place in town and sat on some steps in the sun to eat it before it melted.
We also got ice cream in Montalcino, despite the rain… there wasn’t much open on a Sunday, but this little shop was inviting and the ricotta ice cream pretty impressive.
Apertivo is a very Italian thing – a pre dinner drink with included snacks. Usually you pay a bit more for your drink, e.g. €8 for a negroni or €10 for a craft beer.
You then have access to the aperitivo buffet, which you can go back to also. My top tip here is to not fill up before dinner, because there is plenty more for you to try.
Pici is the local hand made pasta. A cross between ‘worm like’ and udon noodle, its the specialty you’ll find in most local restaurants.
You can get it served with a ragu or tomato sauce in Siena and it’s worth checking out. You can also buy it freshly made or dried to take home with you at Consorzio Agrario di Siena.
Tuscany is known for its truffles, so you need to try something with them. We tried some gorgeous white truffle oil at one of the wineries and had freshly shaved truffles on our asparagus starters one night.
But the best was the delightful truffle pasta one evening at a restaurant on the Campo – butter and truffle is all that pasta really needs!
Synonymous with Tuscany is the wild boar or ‘cinghiale’. The Tuscan ‘national dish’ is Pappardelle Cinghiale, which Paul had his eye on all weekend (and finally got to try it!).
Tuscan style steak
Also known as steak Florentine, this is a grilled steak, seasoned with traditional local ingredients and served with cripsy roast potatoes. Using the best olive oil, fresh rosemary & black pepper and a squeeze of lemon, it’s simple and delicious.
Day trips from Siena or should that be wine tours from Siena?!
We found that the 3 day Acropoli + pass meant that we could spread out the historical aspects and still fit in a couple of day trips from Siena. We did 2 wine tours – one to Chianti and one to Brunello. Both are nearby wine regions and the small group tours (max 8 people in a mini bus), meant we also got to see some of the other ancient Tuscan hill top towns – Monteriggioni and Montalcino.
Chianti and castles
The name of this tour was a little misleading as we didn’t see any castles… just the fortified town of Moteriggioni. However it looked impressive, especially after you go inside the walls and see people are still living there.
But we weren’t there just for the ‘castle’ views – we were there for the Chianti wineries! On this tour we visited two wineries: Poggio Amorelli and Lornano.
Poggio Amorelli was set on the hillside above the vines.
Here they explained about the Chianti Classico ‘mark’ being the black cockerel and we saw a real life one!
After a quick walk through the aging area, our tasting started with a Vermentino Spumante (fizzy) wine and olive oil on bread.
We then moved on to the Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva. They don’t make the Riserva every year – it has to be a good vintage – and it differentiates itself from the Classico by an extra year of ageing.
We also tried the most amazing and delicate white truffle olive oil here, as well as some salami and cheese.
They also gave us tastings of their balsamic vinegar – with bread and drizzled over some Parmesan cheese for the older one – so yummy! We then finished up with a taste of their aged grappa. Made with the leftover grape skins from the wine making process, Grappa is a strong flavoured spirit drink. It’s an acquired taste, however I found that when aged it knocks the sharp edges off and makes a great post dinner digestif.
At Lornano we started with a tour of the winery and moved on to the tasting. We tried a similar range of the local red wine, starting with a blend and then moving on to the Chianti Classico.
After visiting Lornano our tour wrapped up with the drive back to Siena. We enjoyed the tour, however my Classic’s trained friends didn’t think much of our tour guide’s explanation of the local history (Paulo was just wrong on so many points!).
Our tour to the Brunello wine region started with a tasting in Montalcino. Here we compared two different styles of Brunello, the self proclaimed ‘best wine in the world’. We had a traditional style 2014 – so the newly released vintage (they have to age the wine for 5 years, along with some other conditions to be able to call it Brunello). This we compared to a modern style older vintage from 2011. What was immediately obvious was that the 2014 needed to be kept a bit longer before it would be at it’s prime. It was still full of tannins that would round out as the wine matured and needed to be kept for minimum of 3 years. The older modern style vintage was more matured, rounder, full bodied and pretty glorious.
We had some free time to explore the cute town of Montalcino and grab some gelato in the rain (because holiday – dur!).
Then we headed to a old winery outside of town for the ‘proper’ tasting at Abbadia Ardenga.
We had the standard tour around the barrels and aging area. Then we sat down to the tasting. This came with charcuterie, bread and olive oil and very generous pourings of their range.
I really like the Brunello wine – so it should come as no surprise that we bought a couple of bottles of their ‘Piaggia’ Brunello to bring home. Becky also picked up some Vin Santo dessert wine and olive oil.
Loaded with our purchases we got back in our mini van for the drive back to Siena, very happy! Our guide for this tour was Vincenizo. He was a much better guide than Paulo, acting as our translator in the wine tasting at Abbadia Ardenga. We booked our tours for €60 per person per tour and they were around 5 hours long (this includes pick up if you aren’t staying in the centre of Siena where the van can’t go). We thought they were good value as long as you don’t expect more than wine information from your guide! You can book these tours via MyTours.it.
When to visit Siena
I visited over the first weekend in May to make the most of the bank holiday in the UK. The weather was very changeable – we had a lovely day Friday, however Saturday got cooler and wetter and Sunday was cold.
I would recommend visiting in later Spring/early Summer (so end of May/early June), before it gets too hot; or in the Autumn – say September. Shoulder season is better for less crowds, and it was busy when we were there, so I can’t imagine how it would be in the school holidays. Just be prepared for any weather and you’ll be just fine! However if you go in the Summer there is also the Panzano Arte trail to check out in the heart of Chianti, from June 22 to September 18.
So have I inspired you to visit Siena? Let me know in the comments below!